Monday, January 26, 2009

Myths and Facts - a Quickie

sent 26.Jan.2009
Dear friends,

In an ongoing e-mail chat about the war in Gaza and our Palestinian "problem" in general, a friend wrote me the following comments. My response follows these comments, and once more I thought you may be interested. (By the way, tell me if you're weary of all this and I'll leave you in peace.) So here it is:

Dear Aaron
I do not consider myself a warmonger- I wish for peace as much as anyone, especially considering my grandchildren in Israel. However no one threw the Arabs out of Israel in 1947- their leaders told them to flee. We did not hold them in refugee camps, their fellow Arabs did that. After three or four generations, how can they still be refugees? My grandparents came from Europe after WWI; does that make me a refugee in the United States?......................
My response:

Dear ………..,
I know we are on the same side and I thank you for your response. Nevertheless, I think some of your assertions need to be explored.

There are things our madrichim didn’t know to pass on to us during our years in the Youth Movement. The rebirth of our Nation in Israel is a monumental accomplishment and worth our being proud of. But as often happens with monumental things, it has dragged along with it a number of myths and half-myths. Your categorical belief that “no one threw the Arabs out of Israel in 1947- their leaders told them to flee” is evidently one of the half-myths we grew up with. The facts are evidently somewhat more complicated. For example, many villages fled after the word spread of the slaughter at Dir-Yassin. Of course, we have claimed in the past that either this never really happened or it was a totally isolated incident. So here is a short story:

A couple of months ago I tagged along with one of my sons who was looking for a home in Pardes Chana. He found an old house that had been built some 60 years ago. He invited a local building engineer to check the state of the house. The engineer was about 85 years old and knew how every single house in the area had been built and its condition today. By and by we were talking and he asked me where I live. I told him Gesher Haziv in the Western Galil. He became ecstatic and blurted away…”that’s where I fought throughout the War of Independence..” and continued telling me of his exploits, including “and we kicked out as many Arabs as we could from the area. It’s a shame we didn’t get to kick out more.” This, too, was a totally isolated incident, but evidently there were a few more totally isolated incidents. Israeli historians are learning more and more about totally isolated incidents. Today we tend not to claim absolute purity. Wars are evidently more complicated than that. Even justifiable or unavoidable ones.

We learned, as you wrote, that “their leaders told them to flee.”, and with that statement we thrust the entire blame for the Arab exit on everyone else but us. Aside from today’s knowledge that we also had some affect on the fleeing (some shared blame? See above), we overlook another aspect to the above statement: their leaders warned all noncombatants (men, women and children) to get out of the combat zone (until they finish driving out the Jews). How awful of them to clear the field of non-combatants !! Then again…while thinking of our latest “victory” in Gaza, I sorely wish we too had found some way to get the noncombatants out of the combat zone. Our conscience and our reputation would be less tarnished. (We had the ability to do so, but that would have taken some social planning and not only military planning.) Too late. No, don’t get me wrong. I’m not absolving the Arab leadership. Most of all, ever since 1948 they’ve been using the Palestinian refugees, and the Palestinian “problem” as political tools, without allowing any real integration into the countries of their new residence. I’m only commenting that we may be fairly pure, but not altogether pure. Neither then nor now. Life is evidently not as simple as we’d like it to be.

And lastly (for now, anyways), I must comment on a most questionable assertion of yours: “We did not hold them in refugee camps, their fellow Arabs did that.” For the first 19 years after the war of Independence that assertion had some substance. But for the last 41 years the refugee camps in the occupied territories have been completely under our Israeli rule. After 41 years they are still wholly recognizable as refugee camps. You ask “After three or four generations, how can they still be refugees?”. Well, let’s put it this way: had we been left to remain in the various refugee camps we were herded into after the Second World War (e.g. Cyprus, Greece) with a bureaucracy of permits and a tight reign of Military control over our camps, we too would still today be refugees.

There is more, but I'm trying to be brief. It may seem that I’ve become a voice for the Palestinian “side”. Not at all so. I remain a full-fledged Zionist who is still hopeful for “Ki meTziyon Tetze Torah” and “Or Lagoyim”. But I have learned that in order to get there we need to be somewhat more aware of our own flaws and also a lot more understanding of what we see as our adversary’s flaws.

My warm wishes, knowing that we are still essentially on the same team,

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Troubled Friends in the Galilee

Sent 24.Jan.2009
To my friends and any who are still reading about reactions to our war in Gaza,

This past week I was involved with organizing a meeting of Jews and Arabs in our part of the western Galil. We are a group of unrelated Jews in our area of the western Galil with an Arab artists group based in the town of Kfar Yasif, 20 minute drive from Gesher Haziv. We are attempting to initiate programs which reach out to larger sectors of our communities in the hope of creating greater understanding between Arabs and Jews in the Galil.

Our previous meeting had been over a month ago. Meanwhile, 1200 bodies were being buried in Gaza. Last week’s gathering had to be called off because most of the Arab participants said they would not come as a result of the war. Instead we called for a small gathering of our steering group. We met in the community center of Kfar Yasif, 8 of us, Arabs and Jews, to discuss how we can overcome the events of the moment and continue our efforts. One of the Arab participants was a young artist who came to the meeting in order to represent many who were against coming. When he was born his father was hoping for peace and serenity with his relatively new Jewish neighbors in the Galil and therefore named him Saalem.

Saalem spoke at this meeting, and I am trying here to bring you a transcription of what he said. True, I and others weren’t ready to accept all his conclusions, and we had things to say to him as well. But it is also so important for us to hear him out and understand its implications. The results of Gaza are not only in our ability to earn a period of no rockets in the south, and not only about the repercussions in the world media. The results also affect our neighbors who are Arab Israeli citizens.

Here is my attempt at transcribing what Saalem said:

“At this moment in time I have no desire to meet with you and your Jewish friends. Your people have just killed so many men, women and children who are my Palestinian Arab brethren. I and my friends are still licking our wounds and our anger and our despair. I have come here this evening unwillingly, only to tell you these things so that you are not left with the illusion that there is now still an ability for joint communication and dialogue between us.

You Jews come here for dialogue in order to create a semblance of co-existence between us. I’m not looking to make friends. I’m looking for equality. I’m looking for you to know that this land is my land, my father’s and my grandfather’s and his grandfather’s. You have made me a low-class citizen in my land, the land you took from me.

Though I know I cannot roll-back history, I am angered at your not recognizing my history. In school and on my own I’ve studied your history and your suffering over the centuries. I visited the remains of the concentration camps in Europe. I’ve studied your Bible and your literature. But you….you turn your faces away and remain unaware of our Nakba, our disaster, as our land was torn away from us. You live in towns and villages that sit upon the ruins of our villages, and are unaware. Your schools don’t teach our history. You resent any mention of what we have lost. You resent any mention of our rights to our land.

In your eyes we are sub-human. 13 Israeli Arabs were shot and killed by the police during the demonstrations of October 2000. True, the demonstrations were not quiet ones. They were a result of pent-up anger and frustration at our treatment as sub-citizens in our own land. Violent demonstrations by criminal settlers in the West-Bank have never been treated by killing of Jews. But when we demonstrated, you shot and killed 13 of us. It is with that same regard to our sub-status that you saw no wrong in killing so many hundreds of innocent men, women and children in the war against the Hamas in Gaza. You would not have done the same if there were Jews living in the homes which you bombed and destroyed.

I am an artist, and together with other artists in our group I’ll continue having joint art exhibits here in our town with other Jewish artists. But I and most of my friends in this group cannot supply your need to show how we can co-exist while we moan for the loss of so many lives and continue to be a sub-status in our own land.”

That's it. His words were much more compelling than I could transcribe from memory, but I thought you may be interested in reading this. Our dialogue with Saalem was much longer and I think we still have common ground for joint work with Saalem and his friends, but both we and he have an uphill struggle which has now been made more difficult and complicated.

With a deep (but troubled) hope for the future,

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mutual Myopia

sent 19.Jan.2009
In response to an important article in Haaretz by Amira Hass asserting that the Qassam rockets coming from Gaza are one of the results of a long chain of historical traumas suffered by the Palestinians from before and since the creation of Israel, a friend of mine reacted with a totally netgative declaration: MYOPIA !!

I commented on that declaration:

Dear -----,
I believe that "myopia" is (aside from its medical meaning) a lack of foresight or discernment, a narrow view of something. It is definitely a term appropriate to the present situation and indeed to the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most Palestinians suffer from acute myopia as well as most of us Jews and Israelis.

I think we'll never be able to close the myopia gap between us without making a good deal of effort to understand the other side. We don’t need to completely agree with the other side, but a certain sense of understanding is essential. I think we would be surprised how a sense of understanding helps close the gap (compromise?) even when there is still no real agreement as to facts and causes.

Myopia needs to be treated on both sides of a fence. Probably treatment on one side is also contagious to the other side in some small way. At any rate, we have the privilege of trying to treat our own biased Jewish and Israeli myopia (though we have a right to be biased). Hopefully it may even have some kind of contagious effect on our neighbors. In any case, it would influence the things we do and say.

Best wishes

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Our Attack of Gaza

Sent 17.Jan.2009
The beginning of 2009 saw us engaged in an all out attack on Gaza as a response to years of continued shelling of Israeli towns, and a continuation of those same rockets after clearing Gaza of both Jewish settlements and army occupation.

An activist involved with the Palestinian plight wrote to me the following words:

"I think that Israel pushed Hamas into pushing Israel into attacking Gaza (siege,targeted assassinations of political as well as military leaders, firing on civilians....)...I agree it is very sad. "

I need to question your seemingly one-sided support of the Hamas predicament in the unfortunate fighting that is taking too many lives this month. I assume that all of what I write here is known to you, yet perhaps our interpretations are somewhat different. Then again, my comments may be too lengthy, repetitive and boring. I send them anyways, out of a truly great respect for your opinion and for what I know about your past involvement.

First let me qualify my own credentials. In the local parlance of political directions I am neither a rightist nor a centrist in the Israeli scene. I am probably considered by my Israeli friends as somewhat left of the leftists. This is (among other things which I will not itemize) because I have also spent many days during each of the last few years going into the West-Bank in order to help protect local farmers near Shchem from the criminal harassment of Jewish settlers. Unfortunately, very few Israeli “leftists” are there to join me (as you probably also well know from your own past experiences).

I must also qualify my starting point in any evaluation today of our Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have always contended that our original sin as a nation has been to allow Jewish settlers the “invasion” of occupied territories after our defense in the War of ‘67. This is an important qualification being that others around the world consider our original sin to be the creation of the State of Israel. There is much to be said about this anti-Zionist contention, and it has a great relevance in any discussion of our legitimate or illegitimate right to defend our safety in Israel. But I leave that discussion aside, and will for now comment on the present situation via my left of leftist Zionist viewpoint – one that rejoices in our ability to recreate our Statehood, while bemoaning our mistakes and crying at our behavior towards “others”.

It may well be (as I so think) that we share a good amount of responsibility for the rise of militant Moslem fundamentalism (e.g. Hamas) in the occupied territories. I write only “share” because the tsunami of militant Moslem fundamentalism is rooted and spread by much wider causes than us. I also have little doubt that the local situation would be vastly different had we not allowed the Jewish settlement of the West-Bank and Gaza (and eastern Jerusalem as well); or had we long ago pulled our settlers out, as we did much too late in Gaza; or had we not purposely worked to destroy the PLO government under Arafat; or a whole lot of other “or”s that we could have done or not done but did or didn’t. But my inclination is to support what I think we can and should do (or not do) today – at this juncture of history, which already incorporates all that happened till now and poses the present situation. Unfortunately, what could or should have been done yesterday is not always viable today.

This brings us to the year 2005, to the point at which even a goodly part of a right-wing government arrived at a (sadly temporary) conclusion that a two-state solution is the only viable solution, and that we will need to leave Gaza and slowly leave almost all of the West-bank along with a goodly amount of our Jewish settlers. The political right-wing split. A generally right-wing government took us out of Gaza and stated openly to our Israeli public that the next steps will be in the West-Bank. The Israeli public (mostly moderate right wing), tired of terrorist attacks and internal arguments, was “sort of” willing to try out this leftist approach to the Palestinians. This did not happen easily. But the process actually began (to my infinite dismay).

Unfortunately (for both us and the Palestinians) the Hamas kept us from reaching the point of no return. Seemingly, this was done deliberately, as the Hamas has been consistent in its militant opposition to a two-state solution. The Hamas is entirely honest publicly, perhaps to their credit, in still insisting on driving me and my family into the sea, and that the way to do it is by discouraging any progress towards a two-state solution.

As we left Gaza, there was no Israeli siege of the area. As soon as the Hamas gained full control of Gaza our towns began to feel a greater brunt of rockets than had been prior to our departure, with the open support and direction of the local government – Hamas.

(We live close to the Lebanese border and know full well the meaning of living for long periods (starting from 1969 and meanwhile still in 2006) under the threat of rockets. Shrapnel flew inches above our children’s heads as they slept in their bedroom. That was long ago. In 2006 my grandchildren learned the same threats. Friends of ours in the south have been learning about it for a number of years now.)

Since 2005, having torn settlers out of Gaza, having pulled out all army out of Gaza, having opened mediocre but regular passageways between Gaza and the West-Bank…..rockets have continued to land on Israeli towns and yishuvim. This had two major results:

1. The Israeli public decided that leaving any of the occupied territories bodes more harm than expected. It was no doubt the major cause for putting the process towards a two-state solution on a definite hold. On that issue the Hamas won hands down. We shall need another significant breakthrough from within (doubtful) or from without in order to once again prod our Israeli public to wean itself of the West-Bank and begin a process for a two-state solution.

2. Israel tried to convince the Hamas government to cease and desist by a variety of attempts: a siege by closing the passageways out of Gaza to Israel and the West-bank; pinpoint assassinations of militant leaders; sporadic short-term stoppage of basic needs via the passageways (such as fuel). Perhaps these are the attempts which led to the Hamas agreeing to halt rockets for a half year period, during which time sporadic rockets continued to be launched (while weapons continued to be stockpiled). The half year ended with a mighty daily barrage of rockets along with Hamas declarations that such days will continue.

True, some of us (including myself ) thought it would be good to parlay directly with the leadership of the Hamas in an attempt to reach a mutual modus vivendi eliminating the threat of rockets and Israeli retaliation. But even many local lefties (like me) knew that this was a very dangerous gamble. It had the great likelihood of undermining the much more moderate West-Bank Palestinian leadership who were willing to negotiate for a two-state solution, an anathema to the Gaza Hamas.

In 2008 it became evident to all that (other than parlaying with Hamas, a gamble that may bring the Hamas to power in the West-Bank) the only options were to continue living under constant Hamas rockets or some more drastic solution that would stop the rockets.

The international community could have aided us with a number of possible options. It did not. (example: the international regulators at the Rafiach passagepoint left as soon as they were told to by the Hamas.) Nor did the international community and the international aid movements see anything weird with demanding that we continue supplying needed electricity and fuel and banking services and such to the same governing body that inflicts the threat of rockets on our communities and openly declares its plans for our demise.

It has also been disappointing to hear many in the international aid associations tell us to respect the Hamas as the legitimately elected leaders of the Palestinians, while also telling us that the people of Gaza should not suffer for our conflict with Hamas. Unfortunately, We all suffer the mistakes of our leadership. If we recognize their mistakes, and if the leadership is really a legitimately elected one, than we are also able to change it. Otherwise, the leadership is either illegitimate or its actions are fully supported by the people.

Our own leadership decided that enough is enough and decided to tell the Hamas that we will no longer endure their militant provocations. We gave a full blown military response as a result of smaller military responses not bearing any results, knowing full well that this military response is a last resort within such a dense population wherein the Hamas stores its prowess. And war is war is war.

Here is where my doubts begin and where I begin feeling unsure of myself and insecure about our future.

Every new war of ours has resulted in fewer and fewer positive results as far as obtaining political objectives and safeguarding our future. This is not because of weakening military might. It seems to be because the nature of war has changed and the complexities of our situation are such that military might can also aggravate affairs more than before. If so, there would be no sense in lives lost in order to end up as before or possibly worse. In this case, Gaza, lives lost means also the hundreds of civilians who may or may not be active supporters of Hamas, but are certainly not at all involved in militant acts towards us.

In December of 2008 I asked myself what type of action I would support to counter the daily rockets. Small military actions have been useless. Closing passages has not stopped the rockets. Peace talks?? With whom?? Directives are coming from Syria, munitions from Iran. Trying to talk with Hamas in Gaza, while they still insist on our demise would only greatly weaken those Palestinians in the West-Bank who are still willing to talk with us. But full scale WAR??!! I could think of no recipe as an alternative to this right of self-defense.

I am greatly disturbed by some of our Israeli reactions during this military action, already applauding our “victory” with a great smile and happiness: “we really showed them, didn’t we?”. Our Talmud relates that while we Israelites rejoiced at seeing Pharaoh’s charioteers drown between two walls of sea, God moaned and rebuked “my creations are drowning at sea and you choose to rejoice?!” It is difficult to rejoice over a “win” that kills so many civilian men, women, and children in Gaza. Hopefully the price paid in lives will bring us closer to quieter times. This, though, is far from certain. Evidently some things need to be done simply for lack of more viable alternatives. (I don’t think I would have written that last sentence a few years ago.)

I fully understand Louie’s dilemma. Reality is seldom lacking in grey areas of uncertainty. But reality also demands answers to situations, and so many answers in our present world are not foolproof and perfect. But they are our starting point for getting from today to tomorrow.

My best to you. I still think we will find ourselves on the same side of many, many lines.